I downloaded Tinder when I was living in New York in 2012, right when it came out. My guy friends who told me about the new dating app helped me pick out my photos and come up with something super-witty to say in my brief description. Then I was off to swiping on my own. I recall my dad asking me why all of a sudden I was using more than half of our family data plan. "I’m trying to find love!" I told him.
Since that first Tinder experience, I have had much more of a love-hate relationship with dating apps. I have no objection to them in principle; I never felt bad for judging my interest based on a few pictures. I mean, isn’t that what we do when we go to a bar? But in the end it’s always the same: Sign up, swipe right, see someone handsome with similar interests, go on a date, have an OK time, go home, regret online dating, delete the app.
Every month I come to the unshakable conclusion that dating apps are just not for me. I still believe in serendipity, in the old-fashioned way of meeting. I’ll be more open, I tell myself. I will surely eventually meet someone in person, I say. And I mean it.
And yet, sure enough, a month later there I am, re-downloading and re-swiping.
I had always assumed it was just the single life doldrums that kept me coming back to apps. But I now have reason to believe that it is not, in fact, madness that lures me back. It’s actually more to do with my biological clock.
Recently I went to re-up for a dating app—again—and accidentally opened my fertility app instead. There was this starburst circle indicating that it was my first day of fertility, which is usually fourteen days after the first day of menstruation. And that’s when it hit me.
About a year ago I began to track my monthly cycle. It helps me understand my body and helps me cope with premenstrual depression. Since I was already attuned to the way my hormones influenced my mental health, a new connection hit me: during my peak fertility days (about mid-month when I’m ovulating) my sex drive is noticeably elevated. How does this affect my propensity to swipe right? Well, for a woman who avoids casual sex, I instinctively turn to dating apps—the quickest way I know to meet a man, get into a relationship, and hopefully get married and have babies.
That was my theory anyway. Ever the scientist, I tested this hypothesis for several cycles and found a recurring pattern. During first three weeks of my cycle, I would be busy going about my regular life without an extreme desire for a partner. Then, fertility would hit, and I would suddenly be convinced that I needed to make this dating thing happen because it wasn’t happening on its own.
Turns out, there is some real research to back up my theory too. A new study suggests that there may be biological factors promoting intercourse during a woman's six fertile days. The study tracked the sexual activity of 86 sexually active women who were avoiding pregnancy using an IUD or through tubal ligation and found that the overall frequency of sex was 24 percent higher on the women's six most fertile days of the month compared with the rest of the days of the cycle. While there doesn’t seem to be a conclusive explanation for this, researcher Allen Wilcox suggests possible explanations could be an increase in the woman's libido at ovulation and “an increase in the woman's sexual attractiveness due to subtle behavioral cues from the woman or possibly due to the production of pheromones during ovulation.”
All of this seems to make sense given what we know about the influence of hormones leading up to ovulation. During ovulation and the days leading up to it, there is a surge of estrogen in the woman’s body. According to Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential, “You’re likely to be more upbeat, optimistic, chattier and confident, plus have a sharper memory, think faster on your feet and fantasize about romance far more frequently.” Which explains my witty online banter and inexplicable romantic optimism about Blake from Montana. Then, the following week of the monthly cycle, estrogen levels drop—cue my sudden disinterest in online dating and my vows to never sign up for a dating app again.
There is a lot of good that can come from knowing why you have all of sudden gone from single and looking to woman on the prowl. Aside from the relief of knowing I’m not totally unhinged (no pun intended), understanding how my hormones might influence my decisions about my dating life has helped me be more intentional about how I date and who I date. There is nothing wrong with owning up to the fact that you are a warm-blooded woman—it’s how you handle yourself under pressure that matters most.
Since my discovery on my fertility app, I have been able to stop myself from my serial dating app downloading. I catch the feelings that I have, attribute them to my cycle, and then continue on with my life. This month, I channeled my elevated estrogen levels to flirt with a guy I met at a design fair—in person!—and that I didn’t regret.
Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan